People ex rel. Rahn v. Vohra, 2-16-0953

CourtUnited States Appellate Court of Illinois
Citation85 N.E.3d 579,2017 IL App (2d) 160953
Docket NumberNo. 2-16-0953,2-16-0953
Parties The PEOPLE of the State of Illinois EX REL. Gregory RAHN, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Promod VOHRA, Defendant-Appellee.
Decision Date29 September 2017

2017 IL App (2d) 160953
85 N.E.3d 579

The PEOPLE of the State of Illinois EX REL. Gregory RAHN, Plaintiff-Appellant,
Promod VOHRA, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 2-16-0953

Appellate Court of Illinois, Second District.

Opinion filed September 29, 2017
Rehearing denied October 18, 2017

Gregory Rahn, of Sugar Grove, appellant pro se.

Lisa Madigan, Attorney General, of Chicago (David L. Franklin, Solicitor General, and Mary C. LaBrec, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel), for appellee.

JUSTICE JORGENSEN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

¶ 1 Relator Gregory Rahn appeals a judgment dismissing his pro se complaint in quo warranto(see 735 ILCS 5/18-101 et seq. (West 2016)) against defendant, Promod Vohra. Rahn contends that the court erred in holding that the action became moot when defendant resigned from the position from which Rahn sought his ouster. Defendant responds that the case "may be moot," but he urges affirmance on various other grounds, including that Rahn lacked standing. We agree with Rahn that the case is not moot, but we agree with defendant that Rahn lacked standing. Therefore, we affirm.

85 N.E.3d 581

¶ 2 On March 1, 2016, Rahn applied for leave to file his complaint, alleging as follows. Defendant was dean of the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology (College) of Northern Illinois University (NIU). Rahn was a former visiting professor at the College. Since 2009, he had litigated federal claims against defendant and NIU based on discrimination, retaliation, and copyright infringement. An action in quo warranto was proper under sections 18-101(1) and (3) of the Code of Civil Procedure (Code), which apply when "[a]ny person usurps, intrudes into, or unlawfully holds or executes any office, or franchise, or any office in any corporation created by authority of this State" ( 735 ILCS 5/18-101(1) (West 2016)) and when "[a]ny public officer has done, or allowed any act which by the provisions of law, works a forfeiture of his or her office" ( 735 ILCS 5/18-101(3) (West 2016)). Rahn could bring the action as relator because the Illinois Attorney General and the De Kalb County State's Attorney had both declined to file a quo warranto action against defendant (see 735 ILCS 5/18-103 (West 2016) ).

¶ 3 Rahn alleged further as follows. On June 16, 2005, the NIU Board of Trustees (Board) appointed defendant dean of the College. However, he did not possess the minimum qualifications for the position, as (1) he lacked a B.S. degree; (2) his M.A. thesis was plagiarized and NIU leaked the names of whistleblowers, including Rahn, who were then harassed by the NIU police; and (3) he lacked the required doctorate in engineering or technology. Defendant was appointed only because the then-provost lowered the requirements and two ineligible people served on the search committee. Later, one of them was rewarded for his role in the scheme with a pay raise and a promotion.

¶ 4 Rahn alleged further that, since becoming dean, defendant had forfeited his position by allowing his daughter to graduate without fulfilling the requirements, by covering up his plagiarism, and by using the NIU police to intimidate whistleblowers.

¶ 5 On March 1, 2016, the trial court allowed Rahn to file his complaint in quo warranto. On April 14, 2016, defendant, represented by the Attorney General, filed an "Appearance and 12[-]Man Jury Demand" and an objection to Rahn's application for leave.

¶ 6 The objection argued as follows. First, a private party has no absolute right to file a complaint in quo warranto but must establish standing, which requires alleging a personal interest, distinct from that of the general public, that is directly, substantially, and adversely affected by the action that he seeks to challenge. See People ex rel. Turner v. Lewis, 104 Ill. App. 3d 75, 77, 59 Ill.Dec. 879, 432 N.E.2d 665 (1982). Here, defendant argued, Rahn had alleged no facts to establish standing. He no longer worked for NIU. His federal suit against defendant and NIU did not provide the required personal interest; the district court had granted summary judgment against him on all claims and the appellate court had affirmed, holding in part that defendant had not been responsible for his failure to obtain a tenure-track position. See Rahn v. Board of Trustees of Northern Illinois University, 803 F.3d 285 (7th Cir. 2015). The Supreme Court had denied certiorari. Rahn v. Board of Trustees of Northern Illinois University, ––– U.S. ––––, 136 S.Ct. 1685, 194 L.Ed.2d 771 (2016).

¶ 7 Second, Rahn had delayed unreasonably. Although defendant had been appointed dean in 2005 and Rahn had filed a grievance against him in 2007, raising some of the allegations that he now made, he had waited almost a decade to seek redress by quo warranto.

85 N.E.3d 582

¶ 8 Rahn filed a reply. He argued that his interest in pursuing relief was distinct from that of the general public because (1) his suits against defendant had alleged actual damages unique to him, (2) he had alleged that defendant had committed wrongs against him specifically, and (3) the required personal interest need not be restricted to current or ongoing harm, although he had alleged such harm in the continuing effects of defendant's misconduct. Also, Rahn argued, there is no statute of limitations for a quo warranto action for ouster.

¶ 9 Defendant filed a surresponse. He argued that Rahn had cited no authority holding either that merely filing a lawsuit confers standing or that past harm creates the distinct personal interest needed for a quo warranto action. Moreover, even could Rahn show that his damages were connected to defendant's position as dean of the College, that would not suffice; he was required to allege a "professional relationship with [defendant's] deanship," such as being a faculty or Board member. Also, defendant argued, Rahn had failed to support any contention that nine years was a reasonable period to wait before seeking relief.

¶ 10 Rahn responded that defendant's objection had been untimely as it was filed more than 30 days after he was served with process. Also, he argued, by allowing him to file the complaint, the court had already found that he had standing. Finally, he had not delayed unreasonably by seeking relief through standard grievance procedures at NIU.

¶ 11 On July 22, 2016, defendant moved to dismiss the complaint (see 735 ILCS 5/2-619(a) (West 2016)). The motion contended first that the case was moot because, on June 30, 2016, defendant had resigned as dean of the College. Thus, the court could not oust him as Rahn had requested. Second, the complaint was barred by res judicata as it was based on the same core of operative facts as the federal suit, which had gone to a final judgment against Rahn.

¶ 12 Rahn responded first that res judicata did not apply, because the prior federal litigation was not based on defendant's illegal usurpation of his office, his manipulation of the investigation into his appointment, or the academic fraud involving his daughter. Moreover, by allowing him to file the action, the trial court had already rejected the res judicata argument.

¶ 13 Rahn contended second that, for several reasons, defendant's resignation did not make the case moot. First, under section 18-108 of the Code, ouster was not the sole remedy:

"Judgment. The court shall determine and adjudge the rights of all parties to the proceeding. In case any person or corporation against whom such complaint is filed is adjudged guilty as charged in the complaint, the court may enter judgment of ouster against such person or corporation from the office or franchise, and fine such person or corporation, and also enter judgment in favor of the relator for the cost of the prosecution. Instead of entering judgment of ouster from a franchise for an abuse thereof, the court may fine the person or corporation found guilty in any sum not exceeding $25,000 for each offense." 735 ILCS 5/18-108 (West 2016).

Rahn argued that he had identified numerous offenses that would each warrant defendant forfeiting his office. These offenses also subjected defendant to substantial fines, whether or not his term of office had expired, so the case was not moot.

¶ 14 Second, Rahn argued, without a finding of guilt, defendant could return to

85 N.E.3d 583

his office later. Third, he maintained that a judgment that defendant had occupied his office illegally would invalidate the contracts that he had signed under his ostensible authority as dean. That in turn would affect the rights that Rahn had sought to vindicate in the federal litigation and would provide relief to others who had been harmed by defendant's illegal acts.

¶ 15 Defendant filed a reply. He argued first that the action was barred by res judicata because his allegations of wrongdoing could have been included in the federal litigation. He argued second that the case was moot and that Rahn could not rely on speculation that his litigation would help him or others.

¶ 16 In a surresponse, Rahn contended that res judicata did not apply, because the present claims were different from those in the federal suit and because the allegations supporting his claim that defendant was ineligible for the position of dean were not involved in the federal case.

¶ 17 The trial court held a hearing on defendant's motion to dismiss. The court asked Rahn what remedy it could provide were he to prevail on his complaint; defendant was already out of office and Rahn could pursue claims for personal damages in other proceedings—but not in this one. Rahn responded that the court could still fine defendant and that ouster would invalidate the contracts that he had signed as dean. The court held that the case was moot and dismissed the complaint without prejudice.

¶ 18 Rahn moved to reconsider. At the hearing on his motion, he argued that caselaw, including People ex rel. Courtney v. Botts, 376 Ill. 476, 34 N.E.2d 403 (1941), and People ex rel. Ballard v. Niekamp, 2011...

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3 cases
  • Goral v. Dart, Docket No. 125085
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Illinois
    • October 22, 2020
    ...removal from the office. 735 ILCS 5/18-108 (West 2018) ; People ex rel. Rahn v. Vohra , 2017 IL App (2d) 160953, ¶ 35, 416 Ill.Dec. 712, 85 N.E.3d 579 ; (citing People ex rel. Courtney v. Botts , 376 Ill. 476, 480-81, 34 N.E.2d 403 (1941) ). The Illinois quo warranto statute codifies the co......
  • Malacina v. Cook Cnty. Sheriff's Merit Bd., 1-19-1893
    • United States
    • United States Appellate Court of Illinois
    • June 23, 2021
    ...the other appellate districts of this state. See, e.g. , People ex rel. Rahn v. Vohra , 2017 IL App (2d) 160953, ¶ 24, 416 Ill.Dec. 712, 85 N.E.3d 579 (validating contracts signed by deficient appointee); Peabody Coal Co. v. Industrial Comm'n , 349 Ill. App. 3d 1023, 1029, 286 Ill.Dec. 206,......
  • Turner v. Joliet Police Dep't, Appeal No. 3-17-0819
    • United States
    • United States Appellate Court of Illinois
    • January 7, 2019
    ...998 N.E.2d 961. We review de novo whether a case is moot. People ex rel. Rahn v. Vohra , 2017 IL App (2d) 160953, ¶ 27, 416 Ill.Dec. 712, 85 N.E.3d 579. ¶ 13 After Turner's criminal case was concluded and no appeal was filed, JPD released all requested information to Turner because the exem......

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